Complaints in the non-household water retail market hit a record high during the second quarter of 2018/19.
The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) said it received 1,110 complaints from non-household customers between 1 July and 30 September this year – almost double those received in the same period last year.
The water watchdog said this leap “pours cold water” on the promising progress made earlier in the year and has “undermined” the improvement seen during the first three months of 2018/19, when complaints fell for the first time since the market opened.
One of the biggest reasons for the increase was a 64 per cent rise in complaints about one of the market’s largest retailers – Water Plus – compared with the previous quarter.
CCWater policy manager Evan Joanette said: “We’re disappointed that some retailers have not been able to keep up the momentum we witnessed during the spring. Poor performers should be under no illusion that we will publicly hold them to account if they don’t get their act together. The market is well-established now – there’s no room for excuses.”
CCWater has held a series of meetings with Water Plus to establish the root causes of its customers’ grievances and what steps it is taking to get back on track.
Andy Hughes, chief executive of Water Plus, said: “Complaints earlier in 2018 were much higher than any of us would have liked and, unfortunately, we saw a short-term increase due to the work we completed on a considerable number of open complaints. We’ve been working closely with the Consumer Council for Water providing them with regular updates on our plans and the significant progress we’ve made.
“Earlier this year, we made a substantial investment in our teams and processes and our huge efforts mean we’ve seen a 40 per cent reduction in our incoming complaints in the last three months.”
Robert Light – northern chair for CCWater added: “We are working with Water Plus to help them resolve many of the long-standing issues that have generated their increase in complaints and we expect the company to significantly improve its performance in the coming months.”
CCWater said around half of retailers were able to sustain the improved performance on complaints it saw from them in the first quarter of this year. Some companies have developed better guidance and taken up training with the market operator – MOSL – to help improve the delivery of services like trade effluent charging.
Wholesalers also have an important role to play in helping to resolve some of the issues that customers encounter. CCWater recently hosted a workshop which brought together more than 20 retailers and wholesalers to share good practice and look at ways to resolve customers’ most pressing concerns.